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Anderson: BOE wants 'the best' superintendent

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

With six months left until Superintendent John Thompson's contract expires, the Clayton County Board of Education has an important decision to make regarding the district's accreditation this spring.

Should he stay, or should he go?

Thompson was hired in April, but the members of the board who hired him have either resigned, or been removed from office by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The current school board has three choices: Extend the superintendent's contract; conduct a national search for a new school chief, including Thompson as a candidate; or conduct a national search without considering Thompson.

The board is slated to make a decision at its monthly meeting, Jan. 5. It is not leaning in any particular direction, but will perform due diligence on the issue, according to Chairperson Alieka Anderson.

"We will have to sit down as a board and discuss this," said Anderson. "We will look for the best candidate who will work for the children of Clayton County. Dr. Thompson is certainly qualified, but we want to do due diligence to make sure we have made the best decision."

Anderson also said Thompson will be invited to apply for the position, if the board chooses to do a national search. The superintendent could not be reached for comment.

The board must make a decision, soon, about the superintendent's post to satisfy one of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) nine mandates for improvement. Clayton County Schools has until Sept. 1, 2009, to retroactively regain accreditation.

However, district officials decided to pursue re-accreditation before the end of the school year to protect graduating seniors. As a result, a SACS review team will visit the district in April to review progress made by the board, and the system.

Thompson's contract was amended a few months ago to strip him of any unusual powers, and the title of "corrective superintendent." The changes did not alter the fact that the superintendent's contract is set to expire on June 30, 2009.

During the review team's visit, SACS will look at the board's progress toward resolving the issue, said Jennifer Oliver, a spokesperson for the accrediting agency.

"We understand they would be doing a national search with the goal of hiring someone to begin in July, and a national search does take time to complete," said Oliver.

"We would expect them to have a plan to conduct a national search, though, and that they would have made substantive progress on completing that plan," she added.

Oliver said SACS had no direct contact with board members about the superintendent position, but the agency has been contacted by district officials to verify information about the governing body's options.

Among the other SACS mandates were the establishment of a fully functioning school board and the implementation of recommendations from financial and attendance auditors.

There also is the issue of who would conduct a national search, if one is needed. The previous board used the Illinois-based search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, Ltd. The result was Thompson's hiring as a corrective superintendent. The firm had trouble, because candidates did not want to be hired less than a year before new board members took office.

The previous plan was to bring Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates back in 2009 to resume the search, with the new board, but Anderson said nothing is set in stone.

"We would have to sit down, look and decide who we like," Anderson said.

Other issues on the board's agenda for the Jan. 5 meeting include the selection of a new board chairperson, who will serve a two-year term, and a vice chairperson, who will serve a one-year term. The board also will vote on the awarding of a bid for the construction of a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school. It will be built in the county's "Panhandle" region near Lovejoy.